2 CENTS AN HOUR
By MEL MARTIN
WHEN Annette Harris faced having to give up nearly all her entitlements for a measly two-cents-per-hour pay rise, she wasn't about to take it lying down.
For two years, 'the wool lady' has worked hard for the Coffs Harbour Spotlight store, turning up 30 minutes early for her shifts, and building a strong relationship with her regular customers.
So when she read the Australian Workplace Agreement (AWA) she was offered, she couldn't believe her eyes.
Under Spotlight's workplace agreement, penalty and overtime payments and other benefits have been replaced with a pay rise of just two cents an hour, from $14.28 to $14.30 per hour. The AWA has done away with maximum or minimum shift lengths, caps on the number of consecutive days worked, minimum breaks between shifts, rest pauses, rostered days off, incentive-based payments and bonuses, and annual leave loading, and gives the employer the right to ask staff to work extra hours at any time.
The AWA also has no provision for a wage increase over its fiveyear life.
"It's so wrong, so unfair," Annette said.
"I work really hard for Spotlight.
"I've always done the right thing by them, but I feel all they care about is their bottom line.
"I love my job, we're moving the store up the hill soon and I want to be there for that, but I won't be bulldozed."
Under the Federal Government's new WorkChoices legislation introduced this year, Spotlight's AWA is completely legal and above board.
"Our AWA obviously meets all of the WorkChoices require- ments, which includes all those five minimum conditions of wages and leave, etcetera," Spotlight general manager of marketing Jono Gelfand said.
"It's that starting point. So, based on the retail skills in the market forces for that store, they obviously negotiate the rate one-on-one with that employee."
But Spotlight's AWA has the NSW secretary of the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees' Association, Gerard Dwyer, fuming.
"This is the new law of the jungle sponsored by the Howard Government," he said.
"Spotlight employees are people, not commodities.
"Under WorkChoices, these AWAs will create second-class employees who receive less for performing the same work.
"All Australians are now on notice, fairness has no place under these radical workplace laws."
Annette has no beef with her direct manager, who she says is not responsible for the AWA, but she wants to stand up not just for herself ? she has no plans to sign the AWA and can't be forced to ? but also for younger staff who may feel pressured.
"I don't want the store to lose sales," Annette said.
"I told my manager 'please don't be upset with me, you would do the same thing', but we were sup- posed to be no worse off with the new laws.
"These laws are scary, it's going to affect you, it's going to affect everybody.
"I always believe you've got to lead by example.
"If you want change, you've got to stick your neck out. They picked on the wrong person."
Labor took Annette's case to Parliament, where Prime Minister John Howard, who spent $55 million worth of advertising telling Australians that his new system would be fairer, dismissed concerns over the contract.
"At the end of the day, the test of workplace relations laws is the contribution they make to the economy," he told Parliament.
That comment has outraged Annette ? a lifetime Liberal voter now turned ex-Liberal voter.
"How dare he make comments like that sitting in his ivory tower," she said.
"You come and work in my shoes for one day, John Howard.
"Without us, the workers, you haven't got a job, without us, you haven't got an economy."